For months now, Wampanoag tribal chairwoman Beverly Wright has been telling her constituents and at least one federal agency that the tribe's finances are in terrible shape, riddled with debts from failed business ventures.
But this week, just days before a tribal election puts three seats on the Wampanoag governing council up for grabs, other leaders within the tribe's administration are blasting the chairwoman for painting what they say is an unfair picture of tribal finances.
They say the tribe's bottom line is in good shape, and point to a 2001 financial audit to prove it.
What's more, some tribal leaders are accusing Mrs. Wright of skewing the tribe's financial status as a way to better the chances of her husband's bid for the post of tribal council treasurer.
"The administration is troubled and embarrassed by tribal chairperson Beverly Wright's lack of comprehension regarding fiscal affairs and her disregard for the protection of tribal interests," wrote tribal administrator Laurie Perry in a statement to the Gazette.
"She has misrepresented the tribe's financial position as a platform to further her and her husband's political agendas with no regard for the consequences to the tribal members, employees and community at large," Ms. Perry continued. "Her tactics are apparently intended to create fear and suspicion within our own membership and the community, just in time for the Nov. 17 tribal elections."
Last May, Mrs. Wright wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, outlining the tribe's sorry fiscal condition and asking for a waiver that would relieve the tribe from paying its matching share of a grant.
Later, in two consecutive monthly newsletters, Mrs. Wright warned tribal members of deficits and a bold decision made by the tribal council in October to sell a camp on Chappaquiddick for $225,000 and liquidate $1.2 million worth of stock holdings in order to pay off the debts.
"The tribe is going through a deficit period, and the majority of the tribal council has made some decisions that will affect the well-being of our tribal funds for years to come," she wrote in the November newsletter.
Yesterday, Mrs. Wright told the Gazette she stands by her previous assessment of Wampanoag fiscal affairs. "Whether or not my husband is running," she said, "tribal members need to know the true picture."
Clearly, leaders within the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are split over where the truth lies.
This week, Ms. Perry, who tried to unseat Mrs. Wright in last year's race for the chairmanship, argued that the real story can be found in the most recent audits of tribal finances.
Those documents, obtained this week by the Gazette, show that the Wampanoag tribe had a $4.4 million budget in 2001, funded in large part by a string of federal grants totaling more than $3.3 million.
Some tribal leaders this week challenged Mrs. Wright's gloomy outlook on the tribe's finances, saying that assets are increasing while debts are falling.
But those same leaders admit that looking for clear evidence of this trend in the balance sheet is a complicated affair. "People try to apply normal profit-and-loss analysis to these statements, [and] it doesn't work," said one tribal administrator who asked not to be named.
The move to liquidate stocks and sell land, these tribal leaders say, was a smart business decision aimed at ridding the tribe of costly debts. Investments were yielding just four per cent in today's stock market, while debts from the tribe's business ventures were costing them eight per cent in interest.
No one in the tribe disputes that efforts to generate revenue by running a general store and a delicatessen simply didn't pay off as expected. In 1998, the tribe bought the Back Alley's deli for $1 million. That same year, they paid $450,000 to take over management of Alley's General Store.
Both enterprises posted losses; the deli sat empty for more than a year. According to Mrs. Wright's accounting, "operational mismanagement" of the two businesses threatened to drain $750,000 from tribal coffers.
The shellfish hatchery, built at a cost of $475,000, is also losing money, but Ms. Perry insists that even the hatchery will soon turn a profit with more than one million oysters currently growing at the site. Still, construction at the site is stalled while the tribe fights a legal battle with the town of Aquinnah over the Wampanoags' right to build a shed on tribal lands without a town building permit.
Last month, the tribal council decided to sell off $1.2 million in stock and a $225,000 parcel of land on Chappaquiddick. That move, say tribal leaders, eliminated all the debts left over from the hatchery, Alley's and Back Alley's.
According to the audit, the tribe still owes just under $700,000 for the construction of its tribal headquarters. Also hanging in the background is the issue of a casino.
According to an article in the Boston Globe this week, state legislators are beginning to look favorably at gambling in order to offset state budget deficits. But if the Wampanoags are successful in building a casino, other debts could come due - including $11.5 million to the backers of their previous attempt to get the right to operate a casino (which failed to win state legislative approval back in 1997) and $700,000 to a Louisiana tribe aiding the Wampanoags in their current efforts.
As recently as last February, the tribe had hired high-powered lobbyists, lawyers and accountants to push their cause for gambling.
Clearly, questions about money hang in the air as tribal members get set to vote in this Sunday's election. Treasurer Stephanie White and council members Gladys Widdiss and Tobias Vanderhoop are all looking for another term on the governing board.
Their challengers all live off-Island. Robert MacDiarmid, Mrs. Wright's husband, lives in West Virginia and is running for treasurer. Candidate William Carkin is from Leicester, and the other hopeful is Roque (Billy) Monteiro of New Bedford.